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May 7, 2017



5.7.17                                4 Easter                          - John 10:1-10ESV


1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”          



 In a large lecture hall a famous Shakespearean actor was called upon to read the 23rd Psalm, the Lord is my shepherd.  He articulated the verses eloquently.  When he was finished the audience cheered and asked for an encore that they might hear his melodious voice again.  Instead an older gentleman came on stage and began reading Psalm 23.  He spoke the same words in a simple but sincere style with a thin, scratchy voice.  When he was finished, the audience sat silently meditating in a devotional mood.  The orator stood up and said: “I have a confession to make.  The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend here and what you heard from me is this: I know the psalm; he knows the Shepherd.”


Maybe you’ve heard that story before.  I’m not insinuating that if you know the psalm you don’t know the Shepherd.  My point is that it’s important to listen carefully to what the Lord says and not just how others talk about Him.  That seems to be what Jesus was trying to get across in this familiar text.  He urges us to listen to His voice but not to the voice of strangers.  So I’m suggesting that YOU CAN HEAR THE SHEPHERD’S VOICE HERE – as long as we say what Jesus says. 


This Sunday of the church year has been set aside for this theme of the Shepherd and His sheep.  Each year another section of John chapter 10 forms the gospel lesson in the three-year cycle of readings many churches follow.  Jesus used this “figure of speech,” as John calls it, because sheep and shepherds were such a common sight in Israel.  The rocky terrain produced enough pasture for sheep to graze.  Sheep not only provided wool for clothing, but meat to eat and hide for tanning.  The Old Testament has several instances of the same analogy.  For example, in Ezekiel 34 the Lord condemns the shepherds who feed themselves but not the sheep, referring to the religious leaders of the people at the time.  So He promised then: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”  


Jesus kept that promise as this chapter records.  He’s talking to a group of people in Jerusalem. The Pharisees, who were often nearby overhearing His words, didn’t understand what He was saying because they didn’t want to believe in Him.  But the common folks got it.  They were familiar with the scene of a shepherd bringing his flock into a sheepfold built with stone walls for sake-keeping at night.  There was only one door and a gatekeeper would only let the rightful shepherd in.  Thieves and robbers would have to climb over the wall.  The sheep would know the shepherd’s voice as he called them by name like pets and led them out for food and water in the morning.  They trusted and followed the shepherd; he didn’t have to prod them like cattle from behind.  They would not follow a stranger who tried to sneak into the pen to steal the sheep.  A stranger’s voice would frighten them away.  It seems clear, even for city-slickers, doesn’t it, that Jesus was talking about how He wanted to care for His people like a shepherd cares for His sheep.  In His second attempt to explain it to His detractors, Jesus becomes more specific, declaring “I am the door of the sheep.”  Commentators point out that sometimes the shepherd would lie down in the entrance of the sheep pen and literally act like the gate to keep the sheep safe within and to keep predators out.  Jesus is the Way, our only entrance into His kingdom so we can “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   


What a beautiful illustration this is of the relationship we enjoy with Jesus, isn’t it?  Jesus calls us by name, too.  In Holy Baptism we were given the name Christian and as infants became one of Jesus’ little lambs.  Throughout our lives the voice of Jesus comes calling us to follow Him - in Sunday School, Confirmation Classes, Youth Groups, Worship Services, maybe a Crusade.  His voice calls us to return to Him whenever we go astray.   To nourish our faith when we are weak or hungry, He speaks to us with the Bread of Life in His Word.  Yes, the inspired words of this book called the Bible still ring true with the voice of Jesus talking to us, teaching us, admonishing us, forgiving us, encouraging us, comforting us.  He tells us in so many words: “Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”  Again, He said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth.”  And He invites us to “search the Scriptures because they testify of me.”  Furthermore, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus attaches His body and blood to the bread and wine to nurture our faith as we hear His words repeated: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins . .  do this in remembrance of me.”


That’s why we emphasize Word and Sacrament so much in our church (not bells and whistles) – it’s our connection to Christ.  That’s why Lutherans call them the means of grace – the pipeline from God to us through which He gives us “new life, for now, forever,” as our church motto puts it.  Keeping the Sabbath day holy, as Luther instructs in the Catechism, is about gladly hearing and learning the word of God, not just Sunday goin’ to meetin’.  We want to keep hearing the voice of Jesus in Bible study and personal devotion during the week as well.


But how do you know that your Bible teacher has got it right?  How do you know that the materials you’re reading concur with Scripture?  How do you know the preacher you’re listening to – who may sound good – how do you know this is the voice of Jesus speaking to you?  Well, you have to listen closely and carefully.  You know, some comedians are very clever at mimicking famous celebrities.  Rich Little comes to mind.  They can change their voice, even their facial expressions (it’s eerie how they can sound and look so real) but you can still tell – that’s not the real person, that’s an impersonator.  Okay, apply the same listening skills to religious leaders.  Do they preach the word of God or just their own opinions?  Does what they say square with what Jesus said?  Do they teach everything He commanded or just what sells?  He told the disciples, “He who hears you, hears me.”  But only as long as they were speaking the Word He gave them. 


So when the prophets of the Old Testament declared, “Thus says the Lord,” they were claiming to speak for God.  What they prophesied must be fulfilled, Jesus said.  And it was – to the letter.  The apostles of the New Testament realized that they were being “carried along by the Holy Spirit” when they spoke, just as Jesus had assured them.  Thus Paul could write to the Thessalonians: “When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as it actually is, the word of God which is at work in you who believe.” (1 Th 2:13)


You know what a tuning fork is, right?  Piano tuners used them before everything went electronic and digital.  They were set to a precise frequency, an exact number of vibrations per second.  Did you know police officers used a tuning fork to test their radar guns?  The first time I saw that riding along as a chaplain I wondered what they were doing.  Well, it was their fail-safe device just in case someone challenged a speeding ticket because maybe the radar was inaccurate.  So, the voice of Jesus is like the tuning fork for the Bible.  Listen, it resonates.  Then you will follow the Shepherd, not a stranger.


Remember how Jesus warned in Matthew 7: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  By their fruit you will know them.”  The fruit of a prophet is what he preaches.  So we have to be like the Berean Christians who “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Ac 17:11)  That’s how you keep a preacher honest. 


I read about a young girl who lived in an apartment complex in a big inner city. On warm summer evenings the children on the block would gather in the streets to play.  After a while, one would say that she had to go home because her mother was calling her.  One by one someone would call for them and they knew who it was even though they couldn’t see them.  But this girl said: “My friends would all go home.  It would get dark and I would still be there, waiting for someone to call me in.  Sometimes they never did.” 


Sad.  There are children who don’t know the voice of a loving, caring parent, who never get called in.  Left at risk, they are exposed to the voices of strangers who may have bad intentions.  What they want, what we all need, is someone to care.  Someone to call their name, someone to let them know they matter.  That’s who Jesus is.  You can hear His voice here.  Let’s listen to His words as people who know the Shepherd.  Amen.